Sterling K. Brown and his Single Sad Tear.
You’re going to cry while watching This Is Us. Any fan of the NBC drama, entering its third season on Tuesday night, knows that it’s useless to pretend otherwise. Indulging a good cry while watching the life and times of the Pearson family is a weekly cathartic ritual at this point, but perhaps you’re not looking to have your heart ripped open every time you turn on the show. Maybe you’re looking to spend some time silently sobbing, or you simply want to get a little teary-eyed for an hour. Lucky for you, for as many ways the Pearsons can make your eyes water, there are just as many ways to cry. Vulture took it upon itself — we went through so many boxes of tissues, you guys! — to figure out which episode of This Is Us is best for the type of crying situation you’re seeking.
“I Call Marriage” (Season 1, Episode 14)
Aww, Jack and Rebecca’s wedding!
Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC
This Is Us really wants to get you all misty-eyed with this episode. In the ’90s, Jack and Rebecca’s marriage is in trouble. To inject some passion back into the relationship, he takes her on a very romantic date to their old apartment, and then recites the marriage vows he wrote for her. In a flashback — because what good is this show without an emotional flashback? — we also get to see their lovely little wedding and watch Jack and Rebecca recite those very same vows, but this time as a shiny, new couple. Oh, to be young and in love! The juxtaposition of the two moments, and seeing the evolution of Jack and Rebecca’s marriage, is enough to make even those of us who are dead inside a little weepy. But here’s the kicker: In the ’90s, as they are attempting to save their marriage, Rebecca assures Jack “our story is just getting started,” which is basically a direct punch to the heart because we know what we know, so we know that can’t be true.
Runner-up: “The Best Washing Machine in the Whole World” (Season 1, Episode 7).
This Is Us is very good at showing the passage of time through ordinary household objects, which means I can’t do laundry without thinking about the fleeting nature of life. So, thanks, I guess? Also, this episode has Kevin calling Randall his brother for the very first time which, Aww, you guys!
“Number Two” (Season 2, Episode 9)
This Is Us repeatedly tells us that Kate and Rebecca’s relationship has always been an angst-ridden one, which really primes the pump for season two’s Kate-centric episode in which Adult Kate must deal with a miscarriage, while Teen Kate is at her prickliest with Rebecca in a flashback story line. As Past Rebecca tells her teenage daughter that she will always be there for her, arms ready to catch her should she need them, Present Rebecca is showing up at Kate’s door to let her heartbroken daughter literally fall into her arms. Whether or not this turns into a full-blown tearfest, I sincerely hope you call your mother after this episode.
Runner-up: “Moonshadow” (Season 1, Episode 18)
You might be too stunned at how intense the epic Jack and Rebecca fight at the end of this episode gets to be able to cry, but watching mom and dad fight like that will stir up some real emotions. She’s a friggin’ ghost, Jack!
“Jack Pearson’s Son” (Season 1, Episode 15)
What really packs the emotional punch in this episode is that fact that out of all the Pearsons, Kevin is the one who realizes Randall is having another nervous breakdown, ditches his Broadway play mere seconds before he’s about to go onstage, and runs to Randall’s office to cradle his broken brother as he cries. Kevin and Randall have a notoriously fraught relationship and watching it develop has been a highlight of the series, as this episode so clearly proves. Bonus cry: This episode also features a scene between Kevin and Miguel — you know, the guy who was Kevin’s dad’s best friend and then later married Kevin’s mom when his dad died — in which Miguel, who knows Kevin isn’t a fan, tells him that being around Kevin is like getting a little piece of his best friend back. It is very moving, especially for Miguel!
Runner-up: “Pilgrim Rick” (Season 1, Episode 8)
Ah, yes, the most awkward Thanksgiving dinner ever. It’s here that Randall learns his mother knew who his birth father was the entire time, and then confronts her over turkey. That moment of confrontation is intense enough to warrant a single, disappointed tear. Way to ruin a perfectly good holiday with your lies, Rebecca.
Aww, Kate and Toby’s wedding!
Photo: NBC/Ron Batzdorff/NBC
“The Wedding” (Season 2, Episode 18)
Maybe it’s watching Kate’s dream about her parents’ 40th wedding anniversary and realizing what could’ve been if Jack had lived. Maybe it’s Kate sitting on the tree stump at the cabin and finally letting go of her dad. Maybe it’s Rebecca and Kate sharing a wonderful, tearful hug on Kate’s wedding day. Maybe it’s Jack telling his young daughter that one day he’ll walk her down the aisle … BUT HE CAN’T BECAUSE HE’S DEAD. Maybe it’s hearing both Kevin and Randall call their sister Katie-girl. There is nothing so intensely upsetting that you’ll weep during Kate and Toby’s wedding episode, but at least two to three of those moments will get your tear ducts all worked up. It’s science.
Runner-up: “The Car” (Season 2, Episode 15)
It feels on-brand that both a This Is Us wedding and a This Is Us funeral would have the same emotional effect on you.
“Memphis” (Season 1, Episode 16)
A highlight of season one, “Memphis” is a truly bittersweet episode. Randall and his biological father William, whom he only just met earlier that year, take a road trip to William’s birthplace of Memphis, Tennessee. Randall gets to learn about his birth father’s childhood and meet his relatives, which is all that tongue-rolling kid ever wanted, but the whole time William is getting sicker. Finally, you realize William knew the end was near. That was the whole point of this trip. The waterworks really get going once the men are at the hospital and have to say their good-byes. William reminds his son to really live; Randall holds William’s face to keep him from being scared, just like Jack used to do for Randall. And then, just before that velvet-voiced man leaves us all for good, the wrecking ball hits: William remarks that the two best things in his life were “the person in the very beginning and the person at very end.”
Runner-up: “Three Sentences” (Season 1, Episode 13)
Looking to weep while watching a grown man vogue with his 10-year-old daughter? Or while a woman has an emotional breakdown during a drumstick cardio class? Or when an elderly man asks his adult son to teach him how to drive? This is the episode for you!
Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC
“Number One” (Season 2, Episode 8)
Kevin’s story is easily the most heart-wrenching of the trilogy of season-two episodes focused the Big Three. He’s spiraling out, hopped up on painkillers and alcohol, and no one seems to notice — not even when he has a complete breakdown at an alumni event back at his old high school. You might start crying when Kevin hallucinates his father giving him his award at the ceremony. You will definitely be crying once a very drunk Kevin starts giving the play-by-play of his repeated failures out on the football field. And all of these tears will lead to the sob that rush out when Kevin hits his lowest point: After he has a one-night stand with a fellow alum in order to steal her prescription pad so he can score more painkillers, he realizes that he lost his dad’s necklace, the only thing he has left of him. Kevin returns to the woman’s house and screams for her, for the necklace, for anyone at all to help, right there on the front lawn. You’ll want it to stop, but it won’t. Isn’t that fun?!
Runner-up: “The Fifth Wheel” (Season 2, Episode 11)
Where things are said in a family therapy session that cannot be unsaid!
“Super Bowl Sunday” (Season 2, Episode 14)
We’ll never know if it was better or worse that everyone knew ahead of time that Jack would die in this episode, that we’d get some answers to the central mystery of This Is Us, and that we would finally learn just why all these people are so gosh darn sad. But we do know one thing for sure: This Is Us really twisted the knife when it came to the Pearson patriarch’s death. Jack survives the intense house-on-fire escape, he saves his entire family (EVEN THAT DAMN DOG), and grabs their most important family keepsakes, only to die alone in a hospital bed after suffering a heart attack from smoke inhalation. It is the cruelest. The most painful part of the entire thing, of course, is watching Rebecca process the fact that the man she was just joking with minutes ago is now gone, running into his room and finding that the love of her life is dead. The fact that Mandy Moore was not even nominated for an Emmy for this episode should be a crime.
Runner-up: “That’ll Be the Day” (Season 2, Episode 13)
The sadness doesn’t kick in until the very end, but if you were yelling through your sobs while the Pearson house went up in flames — and we were subjected to flashbacks of memories in that house while the absolutely tear-inducing song “To Build a Home” played — know that you were not alone.
We suggest you try watching another show. No, seriously. There are no tears of joy here. Maybe bittersweet tears, but that’s as close as you’ll get.